By the time you read this, the cast of the new Tough Enough will have been selected, the first episode will have aired, and Hank will have been eliminated.
The abysmal success rate of Tough Enough over the years should be a hint that the whole Tough Enough format — where WWE picks a handful of youngsters with little to no ring experience, assumes that one or two of them will become legitimate Superstars, and eliminates competitors on a weekly basis before they can complete their training — is a pretty crappy way to develop talent.
The fact that most of the show’s biggest successes have been the losers, like Miz, Matt Morgan, and Ryback, while winners like Daniel Puder, Jackie Gayda, and Linda Miles have flopped like Austin Steele should also clue the viewers in to how important victory is. And as minuscule as those Tough Enough winners’ legacies are, at least they made it on to television.
Yet WWE’s decision to revive Tough Enough once again makes perfect sense for the company. With WWE being the only major wrestling promotion in the country, a spot on its roster being the #1 goal for most every American wrestler, and its critically-acclaimed developmental league NXT preparing dozens of the world’s best indie wrestlers for the big time, the company needs to train and promote two unknowns with no wrestling experience to the main roster more than ever. And if you believe that, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you.
No, Jeremiah. That’s a dental plate, not a bridge.
If you need further proof of how useless the Tough Enough concept is, just take a look back at the last time WWE produced a season of the reality show, back in 2011.
The show’s problems were apparent right from the beginning, starting with the music. Instead of the generic early-2000s rock that plagued the original Tough Enough run, the revival featured generic early-2010s pop, complete with auto-tuned vocals and guest rappers in the show’s insufferable theme song. Not only do the singers of the theme song sound like Stone Cold could kick both their asses at the same time, they sound like Stone Cold should kick both their asses at the same time. You’d be hard pressed to find a more irrita’in’ reali’y TV theme.
Another odd choice: the “Tough Enough” belts. This may have been a WWE show, but it certainly seemed like TNA came up with the premise: instead of trying to earn a trophy at the end of the competition, the Tough Enough contestants were each given a championship belt right at the outset, with their ultimate goal being to not lose it.
Call it a Reverse Title Chase.
As per usual, the Tough Enough contestants moved into a house as luxurious as Roman Reigns’s hair.
Every week featured a “life lesson” taught in the form of a challenge event that rarely had anything to do with wrestling and everything to do with dumb reality television tropes. These ranged from cheerleading…
…to midget basketball…
…to waitressing on roller skates.
This would lead to the trainers judging with a straight face each contestant’s performance in the week’s gag challenge.
Those judges included the host Stone Cold Steve Austin, as well as Booker T, Bill DeMott, and Trish Stratus.
There were also skills challenges, the very first of which was for each contestant to run the ropes for three minutes, presumably with the first prize being a match on Saturday Morning Slam.
Laugh all you want (please), but these challenges truly separated the people who could run the ropes for three minutes from the people who could not run the ropes for three minutes.
At the end of every episode, the three worst contestants were lined up in the ring alone with Stone Cold and asked trick questions like, “Why are you in the bottom three?”. Much like when a police officer asks you why he pulled you over, there is never any good way to answer that question.
Another favorite trick question of Steve’s was “Were you trying your best?” Say no, and you have no passion.
Say yes, and it means your best still sucks.
Or what about, “Why shouldn’t you be eliminated?” Whatever you do, don’t answer this way, especially if you look like Toby Flenderson:
This is why we have the Fifth Amendment, people. For the 2015 season, contestants should have their attorneys present before answering any questions.
You know what wasn’t a trick question? “What’s your favorite match?” Yet Ariane still managed to screw up big time with her response, which has to be heard to be believed.
Ariane’s obvious lack of product knowledge sealed her fate, and she was kicked off the show after only a few days of training. “You’ll still see me in the WWE,” she mouthed off on her way out. And we laughed and laughed. Little did we know that the joke would be on anyone who took this TV show seriously.
Matt Cross, an experienced indie wrestler, was the second contestant eliminated when he failed to attempt any of his famed fancy aerial moves. Of course, if he had actually done his flippy moves, the trainers would have been on his case for being an unsafe little show-off.
Just ask former tag team partner Teddy Hart.
Or better yet, just ask Tough Enough’s own Jeremiah Riggs.
“There’s a million mechanics out there, but there’s only a few superstars,” said Stone Cold about Matt, perhaps forgetting that he was hired by the WWF in the first place to be a mechanic and not a superstar, and that if he had started flipping people off, cursing like a sailor, and drinking beer in his first promo, he would have been fired on the spot. And that was long before the company was micro-managed by a creative team larger than most battle royals.
It wasn’t just Matt who ran afoul of the damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t paradox; at various times, competitors were chastised for showing no creativity, for showing creativity…
…for stopping after blown spots, and for ad-libbing after blown spots.
On the plus side, we got to hear Stone Cold not only speak French, but say the word, “pizzazz.” Can you imagine how much more marketable to children Austin could have been if he had only told his opponents he’d open up a can of pizzazz?
One quality of a prospective superstar that everyone could agree on was the willingness to continue wrestling after crapping one’s pants.
After Stone Cold tried to teach the contestants about passion with an anecdote about continuing a match despite Yokozuna literally beating the crap out of him, former America’s Top Model contestant Michelle told an incredulous Austin that she too would have kept wrestling if she had crapped her pants. Fortunately, Austin didn’t put this to the test in another “life lesson” challenge.
While she was never forced to wrestle after crapping her pants, Michelle left the show the third week to spend time with her children.
While crapping one’s pants is a good thing, crapping in the contestants’ oatmeal is frowned upon…
…as is pissing in Bill DeMott’s Cheerios. As a rule, you shouldn’t relieve yourself in anyone’s food, breakfast or otherwise.
Another contestant was Eric Watts – no relation to Erik Watts of Tekno Team 2000, or famed promoter Bill Watts. Obviously, no one got on this show because of who their family was.
Alicia Fox’s sister, Christina Crawford, was another contestant.
So was Dan Spivey’s cousin, Andy Leavine.
In the first season of Tough Enough, only applicants with no wrestling experience were considered for the contest. In the 2011 version of Tough Enough, veteran wrestlers like Matt Cross, who had already wrestled on MTV’s Wrestling Society X, were allowed on the show. So what exactly was it that defined the contestants as rookies? Simply the fact that they had never been signed by WWE?
Not even that, as both Andy and Christina were already signed to WWE Developmental deals, which they had to temporarily give up as a formality to get onto the show. This fact was never mentioned on the air, since it would kind of ruin the narrative of thirteen hungry upstarts trying to beat the odds and finally achieve their dream if two of them had already achieved their dreams, then gave them up so they could achieve them again with the cameras rolling. It probably wouldn’t have helped, either, to mention that both Andy and Christina had been handed their WWE contracts without any training.
Then-current Miss USA Rimah Fakih didn’t have a contract, but as the current Miss USA, not only had the current Miss USA already hosted Raw…
…she had also acted as ring announcer for Tribute to the Troops due to her fame from being current Miss USA.
I’m not saying that putting the current Miss USA on the show was a publicity stunt…
…but every single time her name appeared on screen, the graphic read, “Current Miss USA.”
Ryan got stuck with the nickname, “Skidmarks” after Bill DeMott decided to call him that on the first day. A demeaning moniker, obviously, but what was the rookie supposed to do? Tell his trainer to take that “Skidmark” nickname and shove it up his ass?
Ryan was always on Bill DeMott’s bad side for being a goof, so much so that cutting down the contestant at every opportunity became a favorite pastime for the trainer. For instance, the former Intercontinental Champion heavily criticized Ryan during a challenge because, although he successfully withstood being pounced by an attack dog and dragged it across the finish line, his running technique and showmanship were way off while the dog hung by its jaws from his arm.
I’m kidding of course. DeMott never held the Intercontinental title.
Once, Bill DeMott busted down the contestants’ bedroom doors at 6 AM for an unannounced morning run and, seeing them in their beds, asked, “What in the f*** is going on!?” Gee, Bill. I think they might be sleeping.
Although these days, all you hear about Bill DeMott is that he’s a physically and verbally abusive bully who was unsafe with his trainees, none of that comes through on Tough Enough (except for a few times when he wished an attack dog had gruesomely mauled “Skidmark”).
A modern-day Terry Garvin, Bill DeMott could destroy your career if you didn’t rub him the right way.
As the weeks wore on, many current and past WWE Superstars made guest appearances, including Bret Hart, who used the term “professional wrestler” and was censored accordingly.
Towards the end of the competition, the WWE hopefuls got schooled in the corporate side of the business, taking part in a magazine shoot that highlighted the environment of strict professionalism the company now expects of its employees and talent. By this point, Ryan “Skidmarks” Howe had already been eliminated.
It came down to Luke and Andy, both of whom had their upsides. With more and more women watching wrestling, WWE was becoming an increasingly feminine product. As an incredible douche, Luke would fit right in.
Admittedly, Luke did blow it when, in promo practice, he told Bill DeMott that he might think he’s a lion, but Luke is the big bad wolf, and he’s going to hunt DeMott down and pull the trigger to crown a new king of the jungle. Holy mixed metaphors, Sherlock!
Then there was Big Andy, whose self-coined “Silent Rage” nickname had licensing potential out the wazoo, from video games to Christmas carols.
In the end, Andy got the nod, and his first order of business was to get slapped by Vince McMahon…
…then stunned by Steve Austin, which he did not sell to the boss’s satisfaction.
After a backstage segment the following week, Leavine was sent to FCW for further training, which, you’ll recall, is where he was before he entered Tough Enough to become a “WWE Superstar.”
A month later, to further make a mockery of the Tough Enough concept, Andy was joined in FCW by Ariane, who, despite being the very worst contestant according to the trainers, got a contract anyway based on her personality alone.
You’d think that the signing of Ariane despite her total failure in the contest would prove that WWE will simply push whoever they want regardless of merit, but you’d be wrong.
Today, Ariane is better known as WWE Diva Cameron and star of Total Divas on the E! Network.
While many of the runners-up ended up joining WWE’s developmental league, and others, like Matt, Martin, and Ivelisse now wrestle for Lucha Underground, no one who appeared on the show — and were actually trained the Tough Enough way for more than Ariane’s two days — has ever had a match in WWE.
If the competition were a marathon and not a sprint, then Ariane was Rosie Ruiz, riding the subway to the finish line.
To recap: Andy Leavine gave up his WWE developmental deal to enter Tough Enough and win a WWE contract. He won, received another contract, and went right back to where he started, never wrestling in a WWE ring. Ten months after winning the competition, Big Andy was released from the company…
…but not before ordering pay-per-view to see last-place Ariane make her Wrestlemania debut.
In that case…
See you in Dallas, Hank!